Thoughts for a Monday on 2 Corinthians 7:5-7
Every disciple or learner of Jesus Christ desires to experience God at work: in the world, in one’s nation and community, in one’s local church, and in one’s own life. We want to see God glorified, people coming to the Lord, and God changing us and providing for us. What we may not want is the way our Father in heaven carries out his activity in our lives. We want God to just speak a word and all will be well. We seem to prefer that the Lord would do it the easy way and act apart from his chosen means, such as the good news about Jesus and the efforts of his people, especially the latter. Getting people involved means that there will be a mess involved of some sort or another. Since God has chosen to use means in a fallen world, pain will also be part of the process, and we’re simply not happy about pain and suffering and troubles. Like the rest of us, the apostle Paul had to experience troubles as he served the living God. Here he tells his dear brothers and sisters in Christ in Corinth about what he experienced, so that they can know how God is at work in their lives.
God worked through troubling circumstances (7:5). We require reminders about God’s sovereignty. God is always in charge of every circumstance of life (Rm 8:28). Nothing happens apart from his will of purpose, though he permits much that is against is will of precept. God will achieve his plan to bring glory to his name through Christ and his people. But in the day to day accomplishment of his plan, a lot of sinful mess happens. As God’s plan progressively occurs, the Holy Spirit constantly acts with the Scriptures, and in and through followers of Christ to produce the successive steps of change that God has willed. As we are in the midst of the macro, meso, and micro events that the Spirit uses, we can become quite perplexed (cf. 4:8). But our perplexity and troubles do not mean that God has lost control. From our place in the middle of swirling events, it is impossible to see the whole picture, apart from what God has revealed in his word.
Paul, like us, was caught in the middle. And it hurt! It is not easy to be pressed against the grinding wheel as the Lord of heaven and earth sharpens his instruments. God has predestined us to be conformed to the likeness of his Son (Romans 8:29). Paul says that this affected his entire person, both inside and out. There might be a slight emphasis here on toll this was taking on his body. Since we are a functional unity of physical and spiritual, what affects the one affects the other to some degree.
On the outside there were conflicts. (Notice the plural.) It is impossible to know exactly what these conflicts were, since Paul does not say. He was somewhere in Macedonia at this point, and in that place he had experienced persecution. He seemed to always be in come conflict with false teachers. But at this time, he only mentions conflict in general. Not all our troubles are of our own making. We should realize that Christ’s people may encounter opposition of various kinds from those outside because of Christ and the gospel.
On the inside there were fears. (Notice the plural again.) From the letter we can discern that at least some of these involved Titus and the Corinthians. How was Titus received at Corinth? How had the Corinthians reacted to the painful letter he had sent? Had he caused them too much pain? Had Paul boasted too much about the Corinthians to Titus? Had Titus fallen into physical harm on the trip to or from Corinth (cf. 11:26, travel at that time could be very dangerous)? How extensive was the influence of the false teachers at Corinth? How widespread was the ungodly conduct in the Corinthian believers (cf. 12:20-21)?
I used to build homes. One of the great joys of doing that was that you could watch the steady progress from the site work to handing the keys to the new owner. Each day you could usually start from where you had the previous day. Problems from the weather or vandalism were relatively rare. But not in the gospel ministry where we have an enemy who daily seeks to ruin all we’ve accomplished. For this reason, we need to rely on the Lord in prayer constantly
God worked to comfort Paul (7:6). Here is one of the great “but God” interventions that we see in the Bible (cf. Ephesians 2:4). We need to know these, because we are in ongoing predicaments that would be hopeless, if not for the truth of “but God….”
Here is a reminder about God as the believer’s comforter. This is one of God’s characteristics; the present tense uses shows that it is one of God’s timeless attributes. Who is God? He is Sovereign and he is Comforter. God breaks into the unpleasant, painful, perplexing circumstances of his people to produce comfort. This is who God is. Paul experienced God this way. So will all who reach out in faith to him. This is God’s agenda during the new covenant age. As you read 2 Corinthians, you can see that the book of Isaiah was on Paul’s heart. It tells of the restoration of the God’s people through Christ and the gospel. And now in Christ, the new creation is here, and God is bringing comfort to his renewed people (Isaiah 49:13).
God worked through Titus to bring comfort to Paul. Christ’s people are God’s coworkers, not only in spreading the gospel and doing good works in the world, but also in comforting and strengthening one another. This is why as the temple of the living God (6:16) we should be acting to benefit other believers. God gave comfort through Titus’ presence. Titus was one of the gospel partners closest to Paul, serving as the apostle’s envoy or representative on many occasions. When Titus was on the scene, it was like Paul was there. Now Paul was glad because his dear friend was with him. Sometimes friends just need their friends with them. God gave comfort through the report Titus was able to give about the repentance of the Corinthians. As Paul’s emissary, he was able to give Paul a correct gospel evaluation of their spiritual condition. And it was good news (Proverbs 25:25).
Observe that Paul’s sorrows and joys were not limited by the boundaries of himself. He found joy in what God was doing in the lives of others. This is how our lives ought to be in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:26). Christ’s followers must not live for their own benefit! Others ought always to be on our hearts.
God worked in the Corinthians to produce change in them (7:7). Can people change? Yes, by God’s grace we can! People in Christ can change because Christ lives in us by the Holy Spirit.
So then, what happened in the Corinthians? They expressed their longings, which showed that their hearts were opening up to some extent, whether towards Paul or in a far reaching change of mind. They had deep sorrow, which Paul will speak more about in 7:8-11. They developed zeal. The nature of this zeal is unspecified at this point, but he will mention it again in 7:11. Clearly, Christ desires zeal in his churches; he has a distaste for lukewarm people (Revelation 3:15-16). We ought to examine ourselves. Do we have these three characteristics? If not, we are in a worse condition than the church in Corinth.
What their change produced in Paul—joy! Here is hope for those serving Christ. Because God is at work, he can bring joy out of deep sorrow. But there’s more; his joy was greater than before. See the change that God can bring in his people. Paul confessed his conflicts and fears, and those experiences were painful. But now he has a greater joy. It’s a strange path, isn’t it?
In Christ we can know the greatness of God, who comforts the downcast. Yes, our present condition might be filled with conflicts outside and fears within. But God uses them as opportunities to make his surpassing comfort known to us. Troubled believer, through faith in Jesus Christ draw near to God today. Cast your burden on him, and he will sustain you.